On Saturday, Henry Cejudo will become the third Olympic gold medalist to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but the undefeated mixed martial artist could easily become the most accomplished.
Cejudo (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) meets fellow flyweight Scott Jorgensen (15-9, 4-5) at UFC 177 in Sacramento. They face off in a featured prelim (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET) ahead of the pay-per-view main card (10).
Although the UFC has a number of Olympians and medalists on its roster -- women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, middleweight contender Yoel Romero and recent title challenger Sara McMann, for example -- only two gold medalists have competed in the octagon during the company's 21-year history.
Like Cejudo, a 2008 Olympic champion, Mark Schultz (1984) and Kevin Jackson (1992) earned their gold medals in wrestling. However, Schultz's entire MMA career encompasses a single win at UFC 9 in 1996, and Jackson went 2-2 in the UFC before his MMA career concluded in 1998.
Unlike his predecessors, who fought when MMA was more spectacle than sport, Cejudo has a real opportunity to cash in on his wrestling-to-MMA move. Fighters can earn far more lucrative paydays now that MMA has become a mainstream sport.
While Cejudo, 27, is happy to be a member of the UFC, he isn't satisfied simply being one of the many interchangeable fighters on the UFC's roster. He is determined to win the 125-pound title, held by Demetrious Johnson, and has a message for the champ.
"There's a new sheriff in town, and he hates second place," Cejudo tells USA TODAY Sports. "He hates losing, and he's here to win. Whoever has the belt, be ready. It's going to take a lot to beat me. I'm a competitor. I'm coming ready, and I'm coming focused."
Cejudo made his pro MMA debut 18 months ago, but already his commitment to the sport has been questioned. He failed to make the flyweight division's 126-pound limit in his most recent fight with Legacy FC and pulled out of two bookings with the Texas-based promotion.
"Henry absolutely has the tools to be the best in the world at MMA, like he has done in wrestling," Legacy FC owner Mick Maynard says. "My reservations center around his desire to fight.
"I hope his (UFC) debut goes well, and I will be there to watch and support him. But like I mentioned, I truly question his desire to fight in general. I guess this week will help to answer that, especially at weigh-ins."
Despite criticism about his lack of commitment, Cejudo says the cancellations were strictly business decisions and were due to ongoing contract negotiations with the UFC and for a brief period, he says, WWE wrestling.
"I don't do anything in my life right now but training and doing mixed martial arts," Cejudo says. "I'm taking everything I did in the sport of wrestling to win the Olympics, and I'm transitioning it to mixed martial arts."
And the critics who think he has been rushed to the UFC and didn't deserve a contract because of his weight issues?
"This is the thing: People can talk, but a majority who talk are just fans and are a few hundred pounds and on the Internet," says Cejudo, who will compete in the UFC's lightest male weight class. "I'm used to the negativity, the drama. I've been through so much adversity, this is just another hurdle in my life."
Cejudo has fought at flyweight and bantamweight (135 pounds) during his MMA career. He won Olympic gold at 121 pounds. But despite his struggles to maintain the lighter weight, his UFC debut will be at 125.
"In the future, I'd like to compete in two weight classes," he says. "I pretty much belong at flyweight. I'm strong enough to fight at bantamweight, but I feel I can be more dominant at flyweight."
Cejudo thinks he's just what the fledgling weight class needs.
"I have a gold medal, and I have a following," Cejudo says. "I can help elevate the (division) to the next level."
Bohn writes for MMAjunkie.
Original headline: Cejudo brushes aside criticisms
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